The Convergence of Product Led Growth,

SaaS and Customer Data Platforms

November 14, 2019

Audrey Melnik


In the last couple of months I've attended 3 conferences here in San Francisco, each with their own specific focus area, all of which are core to my business and the consulting I do around Customer Journey Optimization. But it wasn't until I attended the final of the 3 conferences that I took a step back to think about these disparate focuses. After some thought, it occurred to me that I am the only person that would have likely attended all three conferences. I may be the only person in San Francisco, and possibly the world who sees the extreme potential of pulling all three of these concepts together. I know it's a big call, but it's also one I'm pretty confident in putting out there. There are no doubt other people who would have attended 2 out of the 3 conferences, but not all 3.

I bring this up, not because of it's statistical unlikelihood, but because it highlights just how unique I am in my current thinking about how to achieve growth for SaaS Product Led companies. I've been searching for many months for people like me who see this opportunity and have the sets of skills to execute on it, and I'm still searching.

The most recent conference I attended was the Product Led Growth Summit. The term, Product Led Growth is a very new term and used to define the growth approach adopted by companies like Atlasssian, Slack and Canva, companies who grew without dedicated sales people, but rather with a great product that spoke for itself and drove it's signed up users to their "aha" moment, the point they see value and decided to become paying customers. However, much like other Product Led Growth content out there, this conference focused on the "what" rather than on the "how".

What I mean by that is that they talked about great concepts like having an organization that embraces experimentation and that failure in many of those experiments needs to be seen as an acceptable cost towards finding the successes. But what was missing for me was how do these companies set their systems up to allow for that rapid experimentation in a way that doesn't slow down the company? It seemed that the majority of their experiments were developer-built, which we all know can be costly, time consuming and distracting.

The first of the 3 conferences I attended was a SaaS conference, for companies that sell their offering on a subscription. There's a strong overlap between Product Led Growth companies and SaaS companies, so I wouldn't be surprised if there had been overlap between the attendees and even the sponsors of these two conferences.

It's the second conference I attended, a conference called Synapse, which is run by a product company called Segment. Segment is a product in a relatively newly defined product category called Customer Data Platforms. It provides a way to consolidate and aggregate your customer data in one place and then distribute all of that customer data out to other platforms you may use, such as your CRM, Marketing Automation tools and Analytics tools to name a few. There are several products in this space and more coming onto the market each day. CDPs are becoming increasingly relevant to startups and enterprises alike and when implemented well, are finally delivering on the 360 degree Customer view nirvana companies have been chasing for decades.

CDPs capture the full customer journey from the anonymized marketing impression at the top of the funnel all the way through to trials, purchases, engagement and retention. When I focus on Product Led Growth, I leverage a CDP to help me execute on experiments at speed, because it pushes data about the customer into all the tools I can use to personalize the customer journey and I can test ideas out in marketing automation tools, onboarding and in app message tools as well as marketing and retargeting channels. And I do all of this without having to create a task for the developer backlog and wait weeks if not months for execution. No. I can do it straight away with the tools at hand, connected together by the CDP.

The reason I mention any of this is that when I first started working on my Customer Journey Optimization methodology 4 years ago, I was having a hard time to put a name to what I was doing. It didn't really fit into Growth Hacking and it's more technical and holistic than Product Marketing. I even sat down with a friend who is a B2B SaaS VC who wanted to promote my services to his portfolio companies, but he needed me to give him a better name than "Funnel Hacking". About a year ago I rebranded it to Customer Journey Optimization, before I even discovered the term "Product Led Growth". But even using the term "Product Led Growth" limits what I do to companies with an online platform and I'm already expanding beyond that and into the realm of offline product companies.

What I have realized over the last day was that these two key concepts have been surfacing during this time: Product Led Growth and Customer Data Platforms. And that I am in that small sliver of consultants that live in the cross-section of this Venn diagram above. And for now I'll stick with the term "Customer Journey Optimization" to encompass the set of capabilities I offer in that small sliver of the Venn diagram.

Are you also in that small sliver? Please get in touch!

P.S. I do admit there are actually 3 companies that I know of that have been a sponsor at both Synapse and the PLG Summit (so clearly they get the opportunity). Do you know which ones?